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1 Set 2023

Qatar 2022: Improved transparency from hotel brands on business relationships & fee-charging, amid slow progress on meaningful due diligence or worker-engagement

Six months after the Qatar World Cup, the Resource Centre published a report - After the Final Whistle: Migrant Workers speak out on exploitation during Qatar World Cup 2022 - documenting the experiences of migrant workers who toiled to prepare and host the tournament in November and December 2022. Of 78 workers interviewed for the report, the majority reported at least one type of labour exploitation including wage theft, contract substitution and being charged extortionate or illegal recruitment fees. By contrast, very few workers reported employers, or companies overseeing worksites and venues, undertaking meaningful monitoring of workers’ conditions to ensure labour standards were upheld. Many described a climate of fear and intimidation preventing them from speaking up about their experiences in case of retaliation.

Six months before kick-off, our research revealed shortcomings in hotels’ response to worker welfare risks in Qatar. While brands were increasingly transparent regarding their business relationships, the industry lacked decisive action on key issues including human rights due diligence; it was heavily reliant on certifications or auditing schemes to uncover rights violations, rather than worker-centric approaches.

Following the publication of After the Final Whistle, weinvited 30 local and multinational hotel brands with a presence in Qatar to disclose information regarding operations during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Only 11 companies - Accor, BWH Hotel Group, Deutsche Hospitality, Four Seasons Hotels, Hilton, Hyatt (answering on behalf of Dream Hotels which it now owns), IHG Hotels & Resorts, Kempinski Hotels, Millennium Hotels & Resorts, Minor International and Radisson Hotel Group – provided a response.

Al Sraiya Hotels & Hospitality, Centara Hotels & Resorts, Chiva-Som International Health Resorts, Corinthia Hotels, Dusit International, Frasers Hospitality, Holiday Villa Hotels & Resorts, Katara Hospitality, Louvre Hotels, Mandarin Oriental, Marriott, Retaj Hotels & Hospitality, Rotana, Swiss-Bel-hotel, The Ascott, TIME Hotels, Whitbread and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts did not respond.

Shutterstock (purchased)

Transparency & business relationships

Most responding companies disclosed the names of business partners, including data on the workforce employed or recruited; four companies - BWH, Four Seasons, Hilton and Hyatt – did not. Disclosure of suppliers and business partners is a key first step for businesses to engage open themselves up to meaningful civil society engagement and scrutiny, in line with recommended best practice.

Five companies – Accor, IHG, Kempinski, Millennium and Minor - disclosed they had cut contracts with agencies or suppliers during 2022; all provided reasons for doing so including non-compliance with their own or the World Cup labour standards, and in response to uncovering fee-charging or low audit scores. Accor’s Living Adventure was a time-bound, World Cup project. In an improvement for the industry, such actions demonstrate how service providers’ records on worker welfare are practically considered by brands in procurement processes, however, best practice must be for brands to identify ways to support suppliers become compliant and ensure any harms are remedied before terminating contracts with little notice. It was unclear how or whether decisions by any brands were informed by a constructive process.

Human rights due diligence

Disappointingly, asked how brands undertook due diligence to detect recruitment fee-charging, disclosure from the industry was fairly non-specific and limited. In line with previous years' disclosure, brands continued to emphasise audits or external certifications while failing to acknowledge the limits of such approaches without worker engagement.

Companies frequently referenced codes of conduct, policies or the audits of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the World Cup organising in charge of worker welfare standards, without describing any further due diligence steps or deeper engagement. BWH and Hyatt provided no information on their due diligence processes; Accor, Four Seasons and Millennium only referred to policies, which the Resource Centre has previously stressed do not alone constitute human rights due diligence.

Doha Skyline and Hilton Hotel Doha Qatar

Some companies – Accor, Four Seasons, Kempinski and Radisson - also referred to a process by which workers were expected to sign declarations that they had not paid fees during the onboarding or contract signing process, without describing how assurances were communicated to workers on the consequences of doing so or remedy they could expect. Given the well-documented imbalance of power between employers and workers, any process to detect fee charging should remain independent from induction and explicit that employment is not dependent on signing.

In better practice, a minority of brands did demonstrate some direct engagement with workers themselves, to understand and monitor recruitment fee-charging. Hilton, IHG and Minor said interviews took place at more than one stage throughout the recruitment process and while workers were in the workplace.

Banyan Tree Doha hotel at la Cigale Mushaireb, Qatar

Recruitment fee-charging

In a welcome improvement on previous years, six brands – Accor, IHG, Kempinski, Millennium, Minor and Radisson - disclosed uncovering at least one instance of recruitment fee-charging among their workforce through their due diligence process. However, only Accor and Radisson disclosed the proportion of their workforce discovered to be affected, and only Kempinski, Minor and Radisson disclosed the amounts reimbursed to workers. The Resource Centre has repeatedly recommended brands commit to publishing this information. Noting the prevalence of recruitment fee-charging for workers to the Gulf region, it is simply not credible for companies to assert there are no cases of fee-charging in their operations or cite zero instances of fee-charging as evidence of adequate due diligence.

In a unique example of better practice, Minor consulted with the Supreme Committee, and reimbursed all workers hired prior to March 2022, and those hired afterwards unable to provide receipts for fee-charging, a set amount of QAR200 in a one-off payment. In demonstrating an understanding of the prevalence of recruitment fee-charging in an unfair recruitment process, Minor’s practice arguably constitutes an industry first.

To ensure such practice is as meaningful as possible, any such future process should include consultation with workers themselves or groups. It should be accompanied by a thorough risk assessment of the specific migration corridors used by workers to ensure reimbursed recruitment fee charges are accurate and fair.

After Qatar 2022

Testimony from workers themselves revealed progress ahead of Qatar 2022 had not been the success story painted by FIFA and the organisers – their voices should guide companies’ response to address their exploitation. Now that international scrutiny has left Qatar, hotel brands and all companies must recognise their role in upholding human rights standards to ensure abuse is identified and stamped out wherever it occurs. The hotel industry can continue to build on the progress of recent years, but must put workers themselves at the heart of all efforts to assess, mitigate and remedy abuse in their operations in the emirate.

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